Tag Archives: art

“Message Delayed” video from 2012

Message Delayed 2012 from Mike Fitelson on Vimeo.

There is just over two months before “Message Delayed” returns to the Juan Pablo Duarte Carnaval on St. Nicholas Avenue on June 1.

Here is some great footage shot by Gloria Pazmino from the 2012 version of the project.

Look for more information about this year’s project in the coming weeks.

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Harmony Program prepares to make music at the United Palace

Finally! After months of planning and meeting and discussing and scheming and dreaming we actually did something under the banner of the United Palace of Cultural Arts (UPCA), the nonprofit organization that I am helping launch at the United Palace in Washington Heights.

We have set the lofty goal of transforming lives by providing community art programs, a home for local artists, and world class events. But after weeks of laying the foundation for all we hope to accomplish it started to feel like we would never actually get anything done.

That all changed on Thursday, September 13 when we hosted the orientation for kids coming into the Harmony Program. This is a classical music training program modeled on Venezuela’s El Sistema. When the Harmony Program is up and running at the Palace, sometime in October, we’ll have 25 fourth and fifth graders from local schools, who have never before touched an instrument, learning how to play the violin, viola, and cello. It’s intensive training – five days a week after school. But the price is right – we are offering the program to students for free.


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“Message Delayed,” a year later

After nearly a year of planning, “Message Delayed” finally arrived on June 2. That was when the 75 photos I had taken of passersby holding signs upon which they had written their thoughts during the Carnaval del Boulevard in 2011 were finally shared with the world, exhibited at the same street festival a year later. It was the second iteration of what I hope becomes a ten-year project.

With the help of a crack group of helpers – thank you David Segal, Carlos Guzman, Gloria Pazmino, and others – we strung up the canvas portraits across four vendor tents like they were laundry flapping in the breeze. At one end we taped together dozens of pages of the New York Times to create a makeshift backdrop for the photo booth, an additional reminder that although the images would be digital, we were taking an analog approach to exhibiting them. Like last year, the wind spent all day shredding the newspaper backdrop. You can see it slowly degrading in one photo after another. Another way to mark the passage of time.


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“Anti-Facebook” exhibit to open Thu., June 14

My photography exhibit “Message Delayed,” which Sam Levin of the Village Voice dubbed “Anti-Facebook,” has taken up its month-long residency in the office of the Washington Heights Business Improvement District.

The opening reception/artist talk will be:

Thursday, June 14 from 6-8 pm

Washington Heights Business Improvement District, 560 W. 181st Street, 2nd Floor, between St. Nicholas and Audubon Avenues.

The exhibit includes 75 portraits I took of passersby last year during two street festivals in Northern Manhattan. In each photo the subject holds a sign with what they were thinking about at the moment. No one had seen these photographs until two weeks ago when I debuted them during the Carnaval del Boulevard street festival.


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People’s Theatre Project rips an idea from the headlines

If you have been out and about in the neighborhood over the past few days you’ve probably seen the promotional materials for People’s Theatre Project’s annual summer playwrights reading series. I ran across a stack of the postcards at Saggio Italian restaurant on W. 181st Street.

This is one of the things that I have been working on over the past few months, supplying the photographs for the design. This was a great project to work on because the design team – Bob Braswell, Mino Lora, and Carlos Serrano of People’s Theatre Project and Kimberly Barrante, one of the playwrights – all gelled so well creatively.

They first told me about the project in January. The idea was that this summer’s reading series, called “Inspired By…,” was going to be based on stories that had either happened or could happen in Northern Manhattan. They wanted to have a ripped-from-the-headlines feel to them. (This newsiness isn’t new to the series: last year one of the readings took place at the office of the Manhattan Times.)

To help set that tone, they asked me to photograph local scenes that could set the stage for the action in each play. We ended up using three new images and one I had taken several years ago of a bride and groom walking up the W. 187th Street stairs. [...]

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Opening doors at United Palace Theatre

Somehow I’ve been so busy that I haven’t posted to my blog for over a month.

That seems hard to believe, but during the next couple of weeks I hope to catch up with all my myriad projects and post them online. After the dust settles we’ll see everything that I’ve been up to.

For starters, here is one project that I have been involved in: helping to lay the foundation for an arts and culture center at the United Palace Theatre on Broadway at W. 175th Street.

Have you been inside? It’s breathtaking. Built in 1930 as one of the last great vaudeville houses, in a style that is described as Moorish/Rococo, the Palace was quickly turned into a movie house. Then in 1969 Reverend Ike purchased it for his church and painstakingly preserved it, at the same time many of the other great movie houses were being carved up into soulless multiplexes.

It seats around 3,400 people, considered the third largest venue in Manhattan. At the height of Rev. Ike’s popularity he would attract 5,000 people over several services on a single Sunday afternoon. The theatre also hosts concerts: I’ve seen Iggy Pop and Bob Dylan there.

Since Rev. Ike passed away a few years ago, the church – and the building – have passed on to his son, Bishop Xavier. It is his vision to build an arts center that is driving what we are calling the “next chapter” at the Palace.

(The above photo shows workers taking down the fence that has long surrounded the building, a moment of deep symbolism for the neighborhood.) [...]

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LMCC awards two grants to my “Message Delayed” project

Message DelayedI was pretty bummed Friday afternoon. Twice Ticketmaster dropped my phone call while I was about to enter in my credit card information to buy Bruce Springsteen tickets. By the time I got through to a representative the show was sold out.

Then came the first email from the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council: my application to The Fund for Creative Communities had been accepted. That took the sting off the lost Springsteen tickets. Then a couple of hours later the second email arrived: I was also receiving funding from the other grant the LMCC oversees, the Manhattan Community Arts Fund Award. That’s enough to make me ask, “Bruce who?”

I’m very excited about the grants, very excited about the project. I won’t know how much money it will total until mid-February, but it will go a long way towards funding the project that I started last year called, for now, “Message Delayed.”

Here’s the concept: during the Juan Pablo Duarte Foundation Carnaval street festival on St. Nicholas Avenue in June 2011, I photographed 50 passersby, both people I knew and people I didn’t know. Each one of them posed holding a dry erase board where they had written their answer to this question: “What’s on your mind?” I did the same thing later in the summer during a festival on Dyckman Street, bringing the total number of portraits to 75.

The photographs will be printed (probably on canvas) and exhibited this summer during the Uptown Arts Stroll at the June 2 Carnaval and then for the rest of the month at the Washington Heights Business Improvement District.

This concept isn’t new. I have always been fascinated by how photography and text work together. One of my first photographic inspirations was Jim Goldberg’s “Rich and Poor” book where his subjects wrote what they thought directly on the photographs. I used that technique when completing my senior thesis in anthropology at UC Santa Cruz.

But I am introducing a couple of twists to the “Message Delayed” project. First: no one has seen these photographs, outside of the LMCC grant review committees. None of them has appeared online. These photographs, taken digitally, will only exist for public viewing as prints. The subjects will be invited to come to this year’s festival to see their portrait and read what they were thinking about a year ago. Thus the title: “Message Delayed.”

Second: I’ll set up the photo booth again during this year’s Carnaval and photograph anyone who stops by. In 2013, I’ll exhibit all the photographs from both years. The people who are photographed both years will have their photos displayed one on top of the other; you’ll be able to lift the newer photograph to see the older one behind it. In this way the project begins to simulate a real life photo album, or more precisely, a real life Facebook page (which is why I purposely asked people: “What’s on your mind.”)

One of my goals since I arrived in Northern Manhattan 13 years ago was to use photography to foster community. The place we live, Northern Manhattan, is divided along many lines: language, culture, geography, economics. My photographic projects – views from the rooftops of local buildings, portraits of local artists, “Message Delayed” – are designed to encourage people to think about where they live and who their neighbors are in a new way.

“Message Delayed” will essentially create a community out of people who simply happened to be at the same place at the same time. Once they come back to see their photograph in the show they will have the opportunity to learn what else they have in common. And if they come back year after year to have their photo taken, they will almost be like family.

At the end of the introduction to my “Northern Manhattan as Muse” exhibit, on view at NoMAA until Fri., Feb. 10, I wrote about how I came to photography through anthropology, which led directly to journalism. But after 20 years, “I can no longer see the boundaries between the art, the anthropology, and the journalism in my photography. The more these lines blur, the better.”

This project is one more step toward blurring those lines.

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The look and feel “Deep in the Heights”

Hard to believe it’s already been a month since the inaugural “Deep in the Heights” house party rocked Inwood. Tonight’s the third Thursday of January so the 55 crew has orchestrated another “cheek to cheek” affair kicking off at 11 pm and heading straight toward the morning sun at Negro Claro on 10thAvenue.

For the record I made it to the first party in December, armed only with a 50mm, f/1.4 lens. I left the flash in the bag and followed the ambient light. That’s all it took to capture the night’s sexy colors and commotion.

Hat’s off to Maury Matos and the cool kids for keeping the party going, but this time I’ll be asleep long before the two-stepping starts.

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Artists Talk Wed. Jan. 18

As I have mentioned before, I have a hard time figuring out how long I have been working on the “Northern Manhattan as Muse” project. I began photographing the local artists about six months ago, but it’s been 10 years since I first began paying close attention to the growing arts community in Washington Heights and Inwood.

Some of the artists who I included in the exhibit have been creating artwork inspired by Northern Manhattan for decades, including Natasha Beshenkovsky and Sky Pape. Others who were born here, like M. Tony Peralta, started being shaped by the neighborhood from the jump.

All these artists, as well as several others, will join me at an Artists Talk at NoMAA on Wed., Jan. 18 from 6-8pm to share insight into how Northern Manhattan influences our creative process.

Also committed to participating are: Jonathan Ullman, Hector Canonge, Jon Michaud, Bob Braswell and Mino Lora of People’s Theatre Project, and Tony Serio.

Andrea Arroyo, who curated the exhibit, will moderate.

You are welcome to drop in and join what will likely prove to be a lively discussion. The gallery will also be open in case you want to see the exhibit with fresh eyes and several hundred fewer attendees crowding the room.

Date/Time: Wednesday, January 18 from 6-8pm.

Location: NoMAA Gallery at the Cornerstone Center, 178 Bennett Ave near W. 189th Street, 1 block west of Broadway.

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On last night and what comes next

Still floating on air from the opening of “Northern Manhattan as Muse,” too pleased to pinch myself and wake up from the high, I keep returning to something that was repeated over and over last night, the greatest compliment-complaint a host can hear: “I’m having a great time but I’m going to have to come back because it’s too crowded to see the art.”

 It was that kind of night uptown.

 Let’s start with the fact that somewhere around 325 residents from this community, which itself is comprised of so many different communities, can find something in common that is so compelling that they will brave the cold to all experience it at the same time.

Now let’s remind ourselves what it was that brought everyone together: art.

A few years ago, who could have imagined hundreds of Dominican-Professional-Young-Jewish-Irish-Parents-White-MiddleAged-BlueCollar-PuertoRican-Senior-Russian-Twentysomething locals living in Washington Heights and Inwood collectively climbing two flights of stairs in a Lutheran church/community center to cram into several rooms and hallways for the sole purpose of viewing photographs, paintings, videos, and other artistic endeavors.

There was such a good vibe that people stayed long after the food and wine ran out.

I think it’s because attendees learned something about this neighborhood and discovered a part of themselves in the art on the walls.


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